Harold Lloyd heads out west and he takes co-star Bebe Daniels with him. Lloyd plays a wastrel jazz pianist who, through a photo mix-up, ends up with the reputation of being the most dangerous man in a small western town. Will the power go to his head? Of course it will! Bebe is on hand as a spunky miss and the object of our hero’s affections.
Two guns, four eyes.
The life of a silent comedy character was not an easy one. Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp remained at the very bottom of the social ladder. Buster Keaton accepted his often-disastrous fortunes with weary resignation. Harry Langdon’s elfin little fellow never quite understood that he was the butt of the jokes and his cluelessness proved to be the key to his appeal.
Harold Lloyd’s go-getting Glasses character was a bit different. While he definitely had his bad days, could behave very badly, sometimes found himself in absurd scrapes and even spent the better part of one short attempting suicide, he managed to dust himself off and enjoy the fruits of his labors.
Lloyd’s peppy enthusiasm and the general good cheer of his films proved to be exactly to the taste of a war-weary public in the 1920s. The groundwork for his success in features was laid when he abandoned ill-fitting clothes and a Chaplin-esque persona in favor of a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles.
The glasses solved a wide range of creative problems for Lloyd, as he wrote in 1928. “At a cost of seventy-five cents, they provide a trademark recognized instantly wherever pictures are shown. They make low-comedy clothes unnecessary, permit enough romantic appeal to catch the feminine eye, usually averted from comedies, and they hold me down to no particular type of range of story.”
Lloyd debuted his Glasses character in Over the Fence, a comedy short released in September of 1917. By the time Two-Gun Gussie was released in May of 1918, Lloyd knew he had a hit on his hands. The Glasses character was versatile enough to be anyone and do anything. Rich or poor, city boy or country bumpkin, Lloyd could be any of those characters and dozens more besides.
In Two-Gun Gussie, Lloyd took on a genre that was a popular target for parody, the western. William S. Hart had dragged the western film from painted backdrops to the grunge of the great outdoors and was one of cinema’s biggest stars in 1918. John Ford had made his first western feature, Straight Shooting, the year before. Before he became the king of swashbucklers in the twenties, Douglas Fairbanks was known for his adventures in the Wild West.
The story is a familiar one. Harold is a wastrel jazz pianist who, it is hinted, comes from money. He has a job playing at a western saloon, bullied by the regulars and snubbed by cutie Bebe Daniels. One day, Harold’s photo is switched with that of a dangerous gunman and he finds himself the most feared man in the territory.
Harold has no idea why he suddenly has a menacing reputation but he is not complaining. With a lot of posturing and a little trickery, he is able to maintain his status as The Man You Do Not Mess With. Of course, this is all very well until a real tough shows up.
Lloyd is ably backed by the affable Snub Pollard and Bebe Daniels, who later enjoyed a successful career in her own right as an action-adventure comedienne. A year after this short’s release, Daniels would move on to bigger and (slightly) more serious things with Cecil B. DeMille, festooned in leopardskin, black lace negligees and given names like Satan Synne.
While Daniels’ replacement, Mildred Davis (the future Mrs. Lloyd), was a sweet all-American counterpart to Lloyd’s go-getter, Daniels had spark and sass. She brought this same spunk to her post-DeMille solo career and her triumphant return to comedy. Daniels was only seventeen when Two-Gun Gussie was released but had already been in the movies for nearly a decade. Her experience shows.
Two-Gun Gussie is a lightweight trifle but it’s great fun to watch and Lloyd beautifully demonstrates the versatility of his signature character. It’s not his most famous film but it’s definitely a fun way to spend ten minutes.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★½
Where can I see it?
Two-Gun Gussie was released on DVD on the second volume of The Harold Lloyd Collection (Slapstick Symposium).